A Baby Bird

It’s hot in L.A. I’m walking down the sidewalk with the sun tingling my scalp through my hat, and the sweat tickles the center of my back with every other step. The wind picks up, the palm trees sway, and in the distance the city buzzes.

There wasn’t a shine, a movement, or anything in particular that drew my eye, but I happened to see a baby bird. It was there, on the sidewalk, under a tree. It was so small, so fragile, and its chest rose and fell so quickly with its tiny breaths. Its feathers were small and sparse, and there were small red lines on its body that were probably cuts or scratches. I look up at the tree, and I have to squint my eyes, but I think I see the nest. A timeline of events begins to puzzle its way together into one of two possibilities.

The first, is that a hot, summer wind came along and swept this bird out of the comfort of its nest before its time.

The second, is that it was old enough – it looks big enough to be that old, maybe; but what do I know? – that it was time to learn to fly. And when its mother made this young chick fly, it wasn’t ready.

Either way, it wasn’t ready.

I look back down to the baby bird on the sidewalk. I don’t know what to do. I hope it isn’t in pain, though it probably is. I hope its mother will come for it, though she probably won’t. I hope for some reason to think it might heal, though I’m not sure there is one.

Briefly, I look around for something to end its life with, but quickly realize I don’t have the heart to mercy-kill it, even if it would be a kindness. There are no rocks, no bricks, only my shoe and I can’t bring myself to do that.

So I do the only thing there’s left to do.

I take the scrap of a paper cup lying nearby in the shade of a parked car, and scoop its limp, pulsing form off of the hot sidewalk. I place it a few inches to the side, out of the sun, in the shade of the tree. I take a moment to wish it well – the lone favor of a passing giant – and keep walking, praying it knows comfort in its last hours.

Later on up the sidewalk, I stop again and think about that baby bird. I look up, and a few moments later see no fewer than half a dozen black birds flying overhead from an unknowable origin to an unknowable destination. I small chuckle tells the lesson: We symbolize birds for their freedom, their gift of flight, and it’s usually with jealousy. But rarely, I think, do we consider the cost, the gamble they make when they’re young, and what should happen if the gamble goes poorly. I realized then and there how common a story it must be, to be a bird that never gets to taste flight. Somewhere in that feeling was a mix of respect and admiration for both: for birds whose wings we hail, and those whose wings never spread more than once.

Later, while we’re leaving the city, stuck in the usual, infamous sea of red brake lights, I see the Hollywood sign in distance.

And I chuckle again.

FIN

A Sad Story

I had a pivotal moment growing up when, at the age of seventeen, I found out a classmate of mine couldn’t tie his shoes (we’ll call him Alessio, because this happened in our senior Italian class).

The funny thing is that there wasn’t a big wind-up to the news, either. I don’t remember exactly what we were talking about in the lead up, just shooting the breeze near the back of the room while class was on break or something and boom, “Alessio can’t tie his shoes.”

A swell of mixed emotions probably came next. Here was someone my age, no physical or evident mental impairments that would keep him from it, just “wasn’t raised that way.”

Naturally, the first thing I do is put on my deer-stalker cap, puff my pipe, and look down to see he is, in fact, wearing laced shoes which are, in fact, tied.

“How’d you tie those, then?” say I, skeptically.

Alessio hangs his head and quietly whispers, “My mom ties them for me, okay?”

In that moment, I was his confidant. I’d been let on his secret that only the four of us in that corner of the room which was our Italian class knew about, and so I would guard his secret…

Until the following week, whereupon we got into some sort of banter – again, don’t remember the decade-old exchange, but I trust it was witty – and I used my newfound ammunition.

“[Evan], you can’t put maple syrup on pizza,” I assume he said to me.

“Yeah, Alessio? Well, you can’t tie your shoes, so you don’t get a vote,” I retort.

Of course I wasn’t quiet, so the others at the lunch table heard and there followed a storm of questions. Alessio hung his head, and I had my hands ‘pon my hips, triumphant.

After all, I’d won.

I used that ace a couple more times, if I remember right. Each time the same thing: an embarrassed smile from Alessio, an explanation, some chuckles, another medal for old Evan.

We were back in Italian class, just after lunch, and we get into it again. As had become pretty routine, I fall back on my zinger. With an enormous roll of his eyes, another part of the group, Ed, threw his hands up. “Dude! Alessio can tie his shoes!”

I sh’narfed and dismissed the peasant for speaking out of hand. Looking to Alessio, I said, “Is that what you’ve been telling him?” And I laughed. “Alessio, tell this guy you can’t tie your shoes.”

Ed looked me in the eye with a cold stare, and held that gaze as he reached over and undid Alessio’s laces. With the shoes loose and undone, Ed then looked to Alessio and solemnly nodded his head as if to say, It’s time.

There was a brief moment where Alessio looked back and forth between us like a child being called by two divorced parents. He turned a face like he’d made up his mind and just said, “I’m sorry, man.” Then he bent over and tied his shoes…

…perfectly.

I was stunned into stuttering silence as I realized that I’d spent the better part of the past few months proclaiming to my peers what was now a gobbsmackingly (it’s a word) obvious lie. I was a fish that had taken the hook, the line, the sinker, better part of the pole, and most of the goddamn boat.

To…to clarify, in case this isn’t sinking in: I was almost a legal adult, and believed someone who was going to be headed off to college soon telling me he couldn’t tie his shoes…for months! And was confident enough to tell a bunch of people about it!

If there’s a lesson to be gained from any of this, let one be to obviously not believe everything you fucking hear, but also to reserve an ounce of sympathy for anyone that makes what you find to be stupendously dumb proclamations; because odds are that one day they’ll realize they’ve been had, and hang onto the experience in such a way they write about it publicly ten years down the road.

Ciao.